Susanna writes that her analyst, Melvin—though dead now—was a man of whom she was once very fond. Apart from one incident in which he accused Susanna of wanting to sleep with him, their sessions were mostly okay, and Susanna enjoyed the opportunity to sit restfully in silence with him. Eventually, though, her therapist began asking her more and more about what she was thinking, and when Susanna—whose head was “empty”—didn’t answer, he would assume to know how she was feeling. He would remark that she seemed sad or puzzled, and Susanna, reflecting back, writes that “of course” she was sad and puzzled—she was eighteen and behind bars.
Susanna’s therapist-turned-analyst, Melvin, is yet another man who presumes to know what Susanna thinks, feels, wants, and needs. Male figures in this book are figures of control and imposition, and Susanna’s therapist—though Susanna admits that she eventually grew fond of him—is no exception to this rule.
After Melvin said many wrong things about Susanna to her face, she began to want to set him right. She felt irritated to have to cave and actually talk to her therapist, but felt a little bit sorry for him—his name, after all, was Melvin. Susanna would often see Melvin driving up to the hospital, and observed him driving three separate cars on different days: a wood-paneled station wagon, a sleek black Buick, and a fast green sports car. One afternoon, Susanna points out that Melvin’s three cars represent his ego, superego, and id, respectively. She is delighted and amused to have made such a connection, but Melvin does not seem amused.
Susanna, ever the contrarian, does not want to actually talk to her therapist or reveal anything about herself. However, the humiliation of having him constantly assume that he knows things about her and wrongly ascribe feelings and thoughts to her eventually gets to her, and she begins playing along. When Susanna attempts to actively participate in therapy, however, she turns the lens on Melvin, but is met with a marked lack of enthusiasm from Melvin.
Melvin encourages Susanna to commit to analysis rather than just talk therapy, and flatters her by telling her that she is the only girl on the ward who could tolerate analysis, as she has a “fairly well integrated personality.” Susanna, excited by this compliment, agrees to start analysis. In their new sessions, Susanna stares at the wall rather than sitting face-to-face with Melvin, and while she does all the talking, Melvin answers only with “Could you say more about that?”
Analysis is a method by which Melvin thinks the deeper truths of the mind can be unearthed, and the method requires a strength which Melvin feels Susanna possesses. Though Susanna is aware that she’s being flattered, she agrees to begin analysis, perhaps hoping herself that the method will positively influence her perceptions and her state of mind.
Because Susanna’s sessions with Melvin are in a separate area of the hospital from the rest of her group, she is given destination privileges. She is able to travel to Melvin’s office by herself, as long as she calls a nurse upon arrival there and calls back again when she is departing and heading back to the ward. Soon, Susanna is upped even further to grounds privileges, and in December, she discovers the tunnels. On one of her trips to Melvin’s office on a snowy day, a nurse suggests she takes the tunnels rather than walking out into the bad weather and offers to show her the way through. The tunnels have a wonderful smell, like clean laundry, and they are warm and humid. Susanna is enchanted by the yellow-tiled walls and high ceilings.
The growth of Susanna’s privileges mirrors the interior growth that is happening inside of her. The tunnels are a symbol of Susanna’s desire to move forward in her recovery, and to explore all the avenues of her brain which she was either too fearful or intimidated to explore before. They are a place of calm and comfort, symbolizing the fact that Susanna is learning that her own mind can be such a place, too, despite all she has been told of its faults and “disorder.”
The nurse tells Susanna that the tunnels allow one to get anywhere in the hospital, but can often be confusing—you “just have to know the way” to make it through, as the signage is often incorrect or misleading. The tunnels become Susanna’s obsession, though she is not allowed to descend into them alone. Once a week, Susanna asks someone to take her through the tunnels; she feels like being inside of them is like “being in a map,” and she feels in touch with “the essence of the hospital” when she is walking through them.
Susanna loves being in the tunnels, and the prospect of getting lost is just as exciting as the prospect of finding her way on her own. The tunnels cement themselves as a symbol of her process of recovery, and the joy she takes in realizing that the power to move through and past her disorder has been within her all along.
One day, Susanna asks Melvin if he knows about the tunnels. Melvin asks Susanna to tell him more about them, and she explains that they run under the entire hospital and connect everything, and that they are warm, cozy, and quiet. Melvin retorts that the tunnels, to Susanna, represent a womb. Susanna refutes his claim, stating that to her the tunnels are the opposite of a womb, because a womb “doesn’t go anywhere.”
Susanna reveals that Melvin died young of a stroke. Susanna learned only after his death that she had been his first analytic patient. A year after leaving the hospital, Susanna quits analysis, sick of “messing about in the shadows.”
Susanna is not interested in anything any longer that is not going to help her move forward and understand her own mind.